Are we on the verge of a robot takeover? It may not be that extreme, but we do know it's coming, we just don't know the specifics. That's the prevailing thought around artificial intelligence and how it is being applied through machine learning as we head into 2018, and while there are still plenty of unknowns surrounding what AI can do, smart minds agree that its impact on society and business will be substantial.

In many ways, we've only just scratched the surface of what this type of technology is capable of. That can be a frightening notion for anyone who's seen their fair share of dystopian future movies, but at a practical level business leaders are assessing how to transition into this new revolution -- if they decide to transition at all.

So is AI something your organization should be paying attention to? And how can you balance a familiar, human touch in your business while taking advantage of all that machines can potentially offer? Understanding where to take AI starts with understanding where it is now.

The current state of AI

Even if you didn't realize it, you've likely interacted with a chatbot on a consumer website or messaging platform, or perhaps even unlocked the new iPhone with your face. We've already accepted some low-level artificial intelligence in our day-to-day lives, and these examples don't really rob us of human-to-human connection.

Even in the example of technologies like Alexa or similar IoT (internet of things) inventions that aim to predict our behavior by analyzing our past and present decisions, the machine can't learn unless humans first give it a set of instructions. At this point, there isn't a mainstream consumer machine that's close to achieving full sentience.

But we're moving there quickly. Artificial intelligence is likely to evolve at a more rapid pace than any other type of technological advance in human history as we've fully immersed ourselves in the swirl of data. Robots are already better than humans at image and speech pattern recognition because they've been fed more data points than the human brain has the capacity to take in.

The big question, especially for businesses, then becomes: will adaptation of this technology follow suit at the same pace? Recent estimates predict by 2030 up to a third of the American workforce will have to find new occupations depending on the pace of AI's adoption. And the numbers alone indicate this change is on track to become the norm faster than previous transformations, such as when the workforce shifted from farms to factories.

How AI is being defined

Artificial intelligence may be the next generation's "organic," a term that's applied to anything and everything to fit on a marketing one-sheet even if it doesn't fit the strict definition. While self-driving cars and smart home devices get all the press, deeper machine learning is mostly taking place outside the consumer-facing world in industries like healthcare and security.

This doesn't necessarily mean your organization has to race to be first to market with an AI product, rather, how can you leverage it to advance your business and improve the customer experience? Can data collection and machine learning be used to make touchpoints along your customer's journey more personal, relevant and timely?

Industries being impacted

Wherever there's a need for more security, more speed or greater efficiency, artificial intelligence will be there. In addition to manufacturing self-driving cars, the auto industry is using AI to, among other things, help improve traffic flow in major cities. Manufacturing has been at the front lines of automation since the assembly line, and machines are only learning to make more and more complex items.

The financial industry is just one area in which AI and machine learning is becoming integral. Various AI approaches are being deployed to make quicker, unbiased investment decisions, approve loans, assess risk, manage portfolios via "robo-advisors," detect fraud, and conduct algorithmic trades.

From customer service jobs to delivery driver positions, careers that were once the domain of human beings are being re-evaluated constantly. But this doesn't necessarily mean we will all be replaced with robots.

What you need to jump on the AI revolution

All of these trends suggest that fighting technological advances is likely a losing battle. And while widespread acceptance of a human experience overhaul may not be right around the corner, the time is now to start thinking of ways to equip your team with the skills and tools necessary to handle the transformation.

Part of that preparation might be around shifting the conversation from "being replaced" to trying something completely new. With technology like this, there are guaranteed to be unique jobs created and roles that we've never seen before. It can only benefit your business and your people to be as educated as possible with regards to understanding AI and machine learning and how they can be utilized to improve operations, marketing, sales, and the overall customer experience.

If you think AI doesn't apply to your line of business, think again. Every industry is being impacted, and today's subtle user experience tweak could be tomorrow's full-blown robotic interface. The pace of business is always quickening, and with AI the need to pay attention has never been higher.